The first week sales numbers for Adele’s third album are in, and the results are even better than the most absurd predictions suggested they would be. With no streams made available through any service and only one single released to radio, Adele’s 25 moved just over three-million copies in the United States during the week ending last Friday, November 27. That number is almost a million units above the previous best first-week sales, which was set by the boy band *NSYNC in a year when the industry as a whole moved over 700 million units. This year, the industry will move just over 200 million units, meaning Adele’s sales already account for money than 1% of all music sold in America during 2015, and that number is going to continue to rise as we head further into the holiday shopping season.
There are many things that can be inferred from these numbers, and in the coming weeks there will no doubt be a number of sites hoping to highlight these points in one or more listicles. We probably haven’t covered everything, but there are four major takeaways from this news we felt were important to highlight here on the blog…
Despite streaming figures that might suggest otherwise, quality still trumps quantity when it comes to winning over consumers
25 is the first release from Adele in years. In the time since her last album the pop superstar has made it a point to keep details regarding new material to a minimum, and she has spent very little time fussing over social media or the way she is perceived in the press. In an age where almost every marketing book will tell you that developing and maintaining constant fan engagement is the key to success Adele has proven such efforts matter very little if you have quality music to share. She understand that no amount of marketing or witty public observations can compare to the selling power of a great song, so she chooses to focus her time on crafting the best new material possible. Everything else comes second, and because the quality of her work is so high fans are willing to accept this fact. More importantly, they are willing to pay to ensure it continues.
Word of mouth is everything
Adele only allowed a select number of critics to hear 25 in its entirety prior to release, and most did not share their reviews until he album was made available to the public, so it’s a little hard to say critical acclaim played any role in the album’s success. While I am confident Adele’s numerous appearances in the press did bring more attention to her new release than what would have existed if she had chosen to remain silent, the real motivating factor behind the initial album sales appears to have been the court of public opinion. People of all ages and races connect with Adele for one reason or another, and anytime she chooses to share new material there are people who are willing to share it with everyone they know. If fact, she doesn’t even have to ask for help. People share Adele’s music and videos because it makes them feel something they otherwise might not have felt, and they long to share that feeling with other people. As long as she continues to deliver powerful observations on life and love through music that trend will continue to develop, which means more and more people being exposed to her art.
Sticking with what has always worked instead of taking creative risks isn’t always such a bad idea.
I would never suggest someone try and force their creativity to fit one idea or style, but there is something to be said for choosing to master one sound instead of becoming sufficiently good at numerous styles of music. 25 is an album filled with the same grandiose ballads that have been found on all of Adele’s albums, and outside of the radio-ready pop sound of “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” there are very few surprises on the record. For most artists that would be received by critics and fans as playing it safe, but I have seen very few people complain about what Adele has created with her new album. The only explanation is, again, that the quality of the material is so good it essentially voids most basic complaints. Would it be cool to hear Adele try something a bit more in the style of, say, Fleetwood Mac? Hell yes. Am I going to complain that power-ballads like “When We Were Young” were recorded instead? Hell no. Adele has made it a point to perfect her sound a bit more with each album, and that, to me, is just as exciting as taking risks.
Streaming may help sell records, or it may not.
Adele chose to keep 25 off of every streaming service on the planet, and there were many industry analysts who thought this might spell disaster for first week sales. Full album streams, they suggest, are what sells people on buying an album. They think music fans have become so fickle that they will not risk making a bad investment on an album they haven’t heard. While that may be true for some consumers, the success of 25 proves that many simply are not sold on certain artists’ ability to create an album filled with quality material. Most, it seems, are believed to be better at making singles.
I think it’s smart for all developing artists to make sure their initial recordings are available everywhere imaginable, but as their careers continues to develop they should continually reevaluate just what, if any, direct impact streaming has on their sales. Are you moving units on the strength of singles and digital promotion? If so, maybe there is no immediate rush to stream your first full length. What matters most is that you never take for granted what does and doesn’t work for your career. You and your music are unique, so you should never expect what works for others to also help your career.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.